Congleton, the capital of feng shui

PUBLISHED: 21:08 01 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:44 20 February 2013

River Dane

River Dane

Patrick O'Neill discovers peace and harmony with a dynamic dozen: twelve lively ladies who are helping to transform Congleton into a happy, healthy and prosperous town

Congleton is bidding to become Britain's first feng shui town with a scheme to 'clean up the clutter' in a borough more famous for 'bears and bibles'* than 'wind and water'*.

The 'feng shui' report for Congleton aims to 'create an atmosphere in Congleton where the inhabitants can best succeed'.

The report by Simon Brown who has worked for Body Shop and airport projects in Venice, Paris and Turin explains that feng shui is a study of 'how humans interact with their environment'. In feng shui theory 'atmosphere has an influence on our emotions so that a certain building or street could have the kind of atmosphere that helps people feel relaxed and content'.

The report was sponsored by Dawn Gibbins MBE whose plan is to 'make Congleton a happy, healthy and prosperous town with feng shui', with advice from Cheshire feng shui consultant Elizabeth Wells. Dawn is pretty good at the prosperous bit having sold her business Flowcrete for a reported 30 million and aims to reach 50 million in five years with her new business Barefoot Living.

Dawn is just one of my collection of a dozen dynamic women who this year will transform Congleton into one of Cheshire's liveliest and loveliest towns.

We began with Jeanne Whitehurst and Annette Kanauros and their plans for Congleton's first food festival, when from June 21st to 28th the borough will become the focus of a culinary fest with community backing. Schools, restaurants, pubs and even allotments will all be involved in an event which will include a young chefs competition, cakes and potatoes culminating in a garden festival and the jewel in Congleton's culinary crown, a gingerbread competition.

This is because gingerbread is to Congleton what black pudding is to Bury, and cakes are to Eccles: the culinary dish for which the area is famous.

The event will include food at Congleton's award-winning L' Endroit run by the inspirational Eli Leconte and Amanda Kirk, one of four alumni of Congleton Grammar who have had a major impact not just locally but nationally and internationally as well. The others are Dawn Gibbins, already mentioned, Carol Gandey the impresario behind the 'Spirit of the Horse' event and Sharon Bowen international fashion designer whose 'mother-of the bride' 1,725 gown was modelled on the day of our visit by the statuesque Eileen Cox with a verve that supported her motto 'life begins at 50'. And because this article appears in February we added red roses from florists George Pagett and David Phillips and a romantic Regency gown and Venetian mask which are the Valentine Day suggestions for a costume from Kings Party Emporium, nearby.

And still on the theme of love, the redoubtable Jeanne Whitehurst introduced a new line on the old Shakespearian saw by suggesting that 'if food is the music of love,' then where better to start than with an apple and a long-term hope that Congleton could produce a 'town orchard' with the admirable aim of preserving some of our ancient varieties of apples.

And sustaining the green theme we come to 'Mrs Congleton' herself. Margaret Williamson, MBE, is chair of the Congleton Partnership and one of the inspirational figures behind the regeneration plan for Congleton Town Centre which will include more trees along Mountbatten Way and the ambitious plan to revitalise the town centre and to develop the Dane waterfront which could even include harnessing the fast-flowing stream that originally brought prosperity to Congleton mills and could now to be used to generate power and light on Congleton's revitalised riverbank.

Which brought me to numbers ten and eleven on my list of Congleton's dynamic dozen, Jackie MacArthur, the town centre manager who produced a encyclopaedic list of 160 local retail establishments including 24 pubs, 41 restaurant, cafes and takeaways, 18 off licenses, newsagents and late shops and lots more. Number eleven is Rachel Brown, whose tourist information centre is the best in the North-West beating Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool and Chester for the award. Try them for yourself on 01260 271095.

Jackie took us into Congleton's council chamber to meet the next generation of citizens who had organised a junior council with representatives from 10 local primary schools. Significantly the person chosen to wear the civic chain was the last of my dynamic dozen, 10-year-old Isabel Cooper from Astbury St Mary's who said: 'I am very excited. I never expected people would vote for me.'

With a dynamic dozen of that calibre, Congleton has a fabulous future before it.

*Congleton famously 'sold a Bible to buy a bear.' Feng shui means 'wind and water.'

Congleton clippings

The Green Island Chippie is famous nationally for selling 'gluten free' fish and chips

Dennis Murphy is Congleton's 521st mayor

Congleton Youth Orchestra encourages musicians from nine to 25.

Congleton Park, created in 1871 has been restored thanks to a 1.5 million heritage lottery grant

The town mace made in 1651 is reputed to be the model for the House of Commons mace and is still carried in front of the mayor on ceremonial occasions

The present town hall was erected in 1864-7 in a Gothic style

Disaster struck the town in 1451 when the River Dane flooded and destroyed the wooden bridge, Town Mill and half the timber built town

And oh yes, that bear. In Elizabethan times townsfolk lent 16 shillings saved for a new Town Bible to pay for a new bear when the old one died. Which led to the rhyme: 'Congleton rare, Congleton rare. Sold the bible to buy a bear.' Congleton's nickname to this day is 'bear town.'

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